Another milestone on the road to improving access to justice in French!
The Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario recently published a report entitled Enhancing Access to Justice in French: A Response to the Access to Justice in French Report (“2015 report”). The 2015 report represents the work of the French Language Services Bench and Bar Response Steering Committee.
The 2015 report is the response to the findings and recommendations presented in the 2012 report entitled Access to Justice in French (“2012 report”).
The 2012 report contains nine conclusions identifying major problems in accessing the court system in French. One of those conclusions is that it is more difficult and more costly to obtain services in French. The 2012 report includes 17 recommendations on how to use existing resources to improve access to justice for French-speaking Ontarians. In a series of 16 blog posts published in 2012 and 2013, I reviewed each of the report’s conclusions and recommendations. All of those blog posts can be found online: https://csfontario.ca/en/articles/4677.
In its five main sections, the 2015 report examines the progress made since the 2012 report and suggests a number of additional courses of action and 10 specific measures for continuing to improve access to justice in French.
Access to justice in French is a key issue for my office, which continues to receive many complaints on the subject. Consequently, I will be publishing a detailed review of the 2015 report in the form of a number of blog posts over the next few months. In the meantime, the following bullets provide a quick overview of some of the improvements made in Ontario’s justice system, as described in the 2015 report, as well as some of the resulting suggestions:
- Since the 2012 report was published, the Ontario government has taken a number of steps to ensure that its employees actively offer services in French so that rights holders do not have to ask for them or go looking for them. For example, the Office of Francophone Affairs developed guidelines on the active offer of service in French. At the same time, the Ministry of the Attorney General prepared draft standards for service in French that must be adopted, finalized and promoted.
- To boost public confidence in French-language services, it is also necessary to ensure that there is suitable proficiency in French and adequate knowledge of language rights at all levels of the justice sector. To that end, various training and awareness programs and the development of glossaries and bilingual hiring and retention strategies are under way in justice sector ministries. A number of training and mentorship programs, tools and other initiatives are also being considered or introduced to educate the legal community regarding language rights and address the shortage of bilingual judges and lawyers.
- To ensure uniform, timely delivery of French-language services as recommended in the 2012 report, new French-language services regional committees are being formed. These committees are composed of judicial and Ministry representatives who serve as resource persons responsible for French-language service issues and complaints in their region. The committees will organize a discussion forum for French-language service issues, which will help identify the best ways of delivering and promoting French-language services in each region according to its needs. Aside from the establishment of regional committees, the 2015 report recommends the introduction of a permanent mechanism, such as a French-language services oversight committee, to measure progress in this area and ensure implementation of the recommendations in Ontario. I strongly support this recommendation, which is consistent with what I advocated in my 2013-2014 annual report.
- Three pilot projects based on the 2012 report’s recommendations have been launched: (1) the Seamless Access to Justice in French Pilot Project, at the Ottawa courthouse (high-quality French-language services will be offered actively to the public during the initial contact with counter service staff and throughout a court proceeding, including bail hearings); (2) the Toronto South Detention Centre Pilot Project (bail hearings in French by video will be provided); and (3) the Small Claims Court E-Filing Project (it will be possible to file claims electronically in both official languages). These pilot projects should help in the review of barriers to enhancing access to justice in French. Now we can only hope that these projects will be extended to the entire province.
Pending my series of blog posts, I will conclude here by pointing out that the 2015 report reflects the good will and hard work of everyone involved to improve access to justice in French. After all, where there’s a will, there’s a way – or at least we hope so!